EASTPORT, Maine — As the easternmost port in the United States, Eastport is the closest deep water port to European markets.
That geographical reality has been driving operations at the Eastport Port Authority since it was established in 1977 and greatly expanded in 1998. That expansion facilitated significant growth in cargo operations, which now include shipments of wood pulp to destinations as far away as China and shipments of dairy cows and beef cattle to Turkey and Russia.
Executive Director Chris Gardner recently received approval from the Port Authority’s board of directors for a $1.55 million budget for 2013, a slight increase over the 2012 budget.
“That amount is what we are forecasting for revenues, and it’s a very conservative estimate,” Gardner said Sunday. “We are a revenue-funded operation. We are a quasi-municipal agency, but we must operate like a business. We make quarterly budget adjustments that reflect operational revenues.”
Gardner said the port handled shipments of 417,448 tons of wood pulp during 2012 and shipped 7,355 cows. Cattle shipments were significantly down from the more than 20,000 head shipped to eastern Europe from Eastport in 2011, which accounts for the port handling 50-plus ships in 2012 as compared to 70 in 2011, which was a record year.
“The company we work with on cattle had been using our port exclusively, but now uses both Eastport and a port in Eddystone, Pennsylvania,” he said. “We’re taking a look at what we can do to entice more cows back to our port.”
The 2013 budget projects payment of $17,483 in property taxes on top of the $20,000 the Port Authority contributes to Eastport as payment in lieu of taxes. While the main port facility is tax-exempt, other properties it owns within Eastport are not.
While Eastport was a port of call for seven cruise ship visits during 2012, no visits are on the books for 2013.
“There’s a good opportunity for Eastport there,” Gardner said. “The cruise ship visits we had this year were a great success, but were the result of enticing these cruise ship companies to assess the Eastport experience. These companies plan their itineraries years in advance, so we won’t see any results from the great experience we had this year until at least 2014.”
Unlike Bar Harbor, Gardner said, Eastport can offer cruise ships a deepwater pier located on a breakwater within walking distance of downtown shops, galleries and restaurants. Cruise ships that drop anchor in Bar Harbor need to ferry passengers and crew to and from the mainland with tenders.
“Eastport doesn’t try to be anything we’re not,” Gardner said. “These ships come here because people want to see a small town. And, given our proximity to Canada, we try to offer the entire bay as the experience.”